January 28, 2023

No Longer Helpless


Interviewed last week for International Holocaust Rememberance Day, my Christian TV host recalled his visit to Yad Vashem and the sight of the cattle wagon exhibit and an unfinished scrawled message he had seen on the woodwork.

This reminded me of my own visit to Yad Vashem many years ago, where I stood for a long time before this particular exhibit. It had special meaning for me as the son of an Auschwitz survivor who, at 19, was carted to Auschwitz with his mother and father in such an overcrowded and fetid wagon.

Standing there I tried to recall my father's narrative of that nightmarish journey, all recorded in his book The Yellow Star. The journey ended with the barking of savage dogs on the Auschwitz camp platform, from which my grandparents were swiftly selected for death that same evening.

Totally lost in my thoughts about the sheer helplessness of our defenceless people, I took a step back as one does in museums and galleries and bumped into someone. Turning to apologise, I found myself facing a young IDF soldier with a rifle slung over his shoulder and a kippa on his head.

I don't think my apology ever came out in full, so overwhelmed was I by the irony of this moment and this encounter.

From a vision of total helplessness, I had come face to face with its exact opposite - a symbol of our national independence and the power to defend our people. 

The soldier quickly moved on, but that moment and its emotion has stayed with me to this day.

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